FSU football coaching search still isn’t over. Don’t panic yet.

We tried to quantify how much an early start matters for a new coach’s recruiting class in the early signing period.
Florida State fans cheer during player intros before the season-opening game against Boise State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.
Florida State fans cheer during player intros before the season-opening game against Boise State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2019|Updated Dec. 6, 2019

A week or two ago, Noles247 circled Thursday as Panic Day in the Florida State football coaching search. If the Seminoles didn’t have a new coach by then, you were free to panic.

Thursday has passed, and FSU still has not announced its next coach. That’s cause for slight concern, but I don’t think it’s time to freak out.

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The line of thinking from Noles247 goes like this: Because most top prospects sign during the early period instead of waiting until February, hiring a coach as soon as possible is pivotal for recruiting. Not having the next coach in place Thursday means FSU is at a disadvantage for hosting recruits this weekend. That leaves only one full weekend for visits before the early signing period begins on Dec. 18.

The logic is sound. I made a similar point in October when I explained why the ‘Noles should fire Willie Taggart midseason if they were convinced he wasn’t their long-term solution. Every hour that goes by without a new coach is an hour of limited, if not wasted, recruiting time.

So how much do those wasted recruiting hours hurt a program? I tried to quantify a few different answers.

In the past two coaching carousels, eight Power Five coaches have been hired on/before the Friday of conference championship weekend. Ten have been hired between championship Saturday and the early signing period (excluding in-house promotions). The data I came up with from that small sample size was mixed.

Coaches who got an early start signed slightly better classes than the ones who started later. The median recruiting class from the early wave was three spots worse than their school’s class from the previous year. The second wave? Those classes were 4.5 spots worse.

The fact that a school’s recruiting dipped no matter when it hired a coach isn’t a surprise. Transition classes usually suffer because coaching changes sever recruiting relationships that take years to build.

Coaches with later hire dates surprisingly averaged more early signees (10.7) than the coaches who had a head start (10.6). But that difference is negligible.

One possible reason why Taggart’s second recruiting class disappointed is that he had to spend too much time salvaging the first one that he lost ground on the second. While most coaches were using January 2018 to get a jump on the next year’s class, Taggart was still trying to save the current one. I found some numbers for that, too.

RELATED: Why a Willie Taggart-USF reunion might (and might not) make sense

Schools that made early coaching hires saw their recruiting classes drop by 2.9 spots from the previous two years. Teams with later hires saw their classes dip by 4.6 spots.

There are also anecdotal examples of how a few more days of coaching limbo could hurt FSU. As Jimbo Fisher was on his way to Texas A&M in 2017, the ’Noles lost a commitment from safety John Huggins. UF and its new coach, Dan Mullen, offered him a few days later (on the same day FSU hired Taggart). Huggins signed with the Gators that December.

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Mullen’s other initial early signees included blue-chip quarterback Emory Jones and four-star defensive back Trey Dean. Both were committed elsewhere in December before choosing UF.

Quarterback Emory Jones (14) arrives for Florida Gators spring football practice on March 16, 2018.
Quarterback Emory Jones (14) arrives for Florida Gators spring football practice on March 16, 2018. [ Times (2018) ]

North Carolina hired Mack Brown last November, giving him plenty of time to recruit. Among the players he landed the next month: Longtime FSU commit Sam Howell, whose 35 touchdown passes this year were the most ever by a Division I-A true freshman. Howell might have been the first prospect Brown visited.

How much did the head starts help Brown and Mullen land those promising players? It’s hard to say, but they obviously didn’t hurt.

So FSU’s new coach will be at some sort of disadvantage when he’s hired, but I’m still not sure how far behind the 8-ball he’ll be. Expect an announcement within 24 hours of conference championships this weekend, probably because the Seminoles’ next coach will be participating in one of those games.

If Monday morning comes and the ’Noles still haven’t named their new coach? Then it’s time to start panicking.